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Legislative Immunity

Robert Wechsler
Although the ethics proceedings involving Rep. Charles Rangel (NY) are at the federal level, there is a lot to be learned from them that is relevant at the local level.

Yesterday, Mr. Rangel walked out of a meeting of the adjudicatory subcommittee of the House ethics committee, insisting that he could not afford a lawyer and asking for an extension. He has apparently run up $2 million in legal fees, and his lawyers ended their representation of him when he could not pay. Pro bono...
Robert Wechsler
I've written several blog posts about the criminal trials of a Baltimore council member and the former Baltimore mayor, focusing on their successful legislative immunity defenses (1 2 3...
Robert Wechsler
Four years after I wrote a blog post entitled The Ethics of Today's Municipal Pension Plan Problems, according to an op-ed piece in the New York Times, New Jersey agreed with the S.E.C. never again to fraudulently hide...
Robert Wechsler
It is troubling that legislators insist that legislative immunity protects them in order that they may represent their constituents, and yet legislative bodies rarely have rules to ensure that their members represent their constituents by showing up to debate and vote.

The result is that some legislators, at every level, do not adequately represent their constituents by showing up to work. And often voters do not know. This may not be something that can be enforced by a local...
Robert Wechsler
The defense of legislative immunity is not limited to city councilors and county commissioners. It also can be used by non-legislative officials acting in a legislative way. It may be used by planning and zoning board members and officials, school board members, and a variety of other officials involved in the creation of legislation or who act in a legislative manner.

Here's an interesting case of a non-legislative official trying out a defense of legislative immunity and,...
Robert Wechsler
It appeared to be a sign of sheer desperation when former Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich's attorney, in his closing argument last week, used as a defense the fact that Blagojevich isn't "the sharpest knife in the drawer."

But actually this is a real issue, at least in government ethics. It is often hard to tell the difference between incompetence and misuse of office. Take local government attorneys, for example. Many of them consciously let officials off the hook with poor...